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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

confession of murder bluConfession of Murder

A serial killer ends his reign of terror and disappears into the night, but years later when the statute of limitations runs out on the crimes a man comes forward to claim responsibility and sell some books. He becomes an overnight sensation with the media, but the detective that worked the original case is none too pleased with the man’s newfound celebrity. The victims’ families are equally unhappy and set about making their own justice, and soon all manner of shenanigans are in play.

Jung Byung-gil‘s action/thriller is an ecstatically energetic and deliriously entertaining flick that moves effortlessly between beautifully choreographed chase/fight scenes, heart-rending drama and purely comedic interactions. The story gets a bit silly at times, but it’s never less than invigorating and exciting. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, you should at least listen to the cover blurb calling it “One hell of a ride.”

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes, interviews, trailer]

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breaking the wavesBreaking the Waves (Criterion)

Pitch: “Love Is a Mighty Power”

Breaking the Waves was, pun not intended, a breakthrough for those involved. Emily Watson, here in a bold and immersive role, received universal lauds and was catapulted into renown. And Lars von Trier’s provocative ode to Carl Theodor Dreyer was his first film made in his minimal-realist handheld style that would become known as Dogme 95, and his first of many, many character portraits of subordinated, self-sacrificing women and the men who hate to “love” them. But after almost two decades of von Trier’s provocations as an artist and a celebrity, Breaking the Waves somehow remains his freshest, most brazen, and most thoughtful work.

Watson’s Bess McNeill is von Trier’s most richly realized would-be feminist. Her idiosyncratic mind doesn’t need to comprehend the world as banal normals do in order to realize the backwards system of religion-informed patriarchy in which she suffers – and to embrace briefly, if tragically, the new possibilities that her exhilarating and troubled marriage to Jan (Stellan Skarsgard) introduces to her. Breaking the Wavesis a maddening, sometimes impenetrable film both brutal and beautiful in its unflinching portrayal of systemic oppression. A work worth pondering over and agonizing with, Breaking the Waves masterfully explores the themes that have mobilized von Trier’s filmmaking up to and including Nymphomaniac. Except this film is good. – Landon Palmer

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Select-scene commentary by von Trier; new interviews with cast and crew; excerpts from Watson’s audition; deleted scenes; promotional materials; illustrated booklet with an essay by David Sterritt and an excerpt from von Trier on von Trier]

double indemnity bluDouble Indemnity

Pitch: “From the Moment They Met It Was Murder!”

Walter (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance agent easily swayed by an attractive pair of legs, and when he meets Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) he’s immediately putty in her pocket. Together the pair hatch a plan to off Phyllis’ stuffy husband, cash in the insurance policy and set off on a new life together. The plan has some hitches though in the form of the husband’s lack of insurance and Walter’s boss (Edward G. Robinson) who can sniff a scam a mile away.

Billy Wilder‘s 1944 noir classic may be seventy years old, but it moves like a bullet when necessary and allows for a cracking romance between the two malicious leads. Walter’s narration reveals early on that things didn’t quite go as planned, but events still unfurl with a suspenseful and energetic feel. It’s great seeing MacMurray in a darker, sexier role than his TV and Disney fare portrayed him years later, and Stanwyck is just stellar. Robinson though is the film’s comic relief as well as its unknowing heart. Great stuff.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Introduction, featurette commentaries, 1973 TV remake, lobby card reproductions]

mobiusMöbius

Pitch: “Deception Has No Allies”

Gregory (Jean Dujardin) is a Russian finance agent investigating a giant money laundering operation, and he sets his sights on an international banker (Cecile De France) to help in his mission. What he doesn’t know though is that she’s on a mission too, and her CIA bosses have little concern for either of them.

It’s always refreshing to come across an adult thriller more interested in intelligent plot turns and relationships than in explosions and punchlines, and writer/director Eric Rochant‘s new film does just that. The plot is twisty while still being grounded, the cast is top notch and the ending is more affecting than expected. The film’s high points though are any time Dujardin and De France share the screen, whether it be an incredibly touching sex scene or just their charged conversations. Solid filmmaking all around.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interviews, trailer]

Touch-of-Evil-br-usTouch of Evil

Pitch: “The Strangest Vengeance Ever Planned!”

A Mexican cop (Charleton Heston, don’t ask) on his honeymoon with his wife (Janet Leigh) gets caught up in a border town murder case when the American sheriff (Orson Welles) frames a young boy for the crime. The two men enter into a battle that draws innocents into the fray and leads toa bloody conclusion.

Welles’ film was unfairly maligned upon initial release by both the studio and a disinterested public, but decades later it received the praise it deserved. Universal’s remastered and restored release includes three cuts of the film including the closest approximation possible to the movie Welles wanted to make. Heston as a Mexican aside it’s a thrilling and wonderfully shot film noir that continues to entertain 56 years after its initial release.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, 58 page memo from Orson Welles to studio]

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Anger Management: Volume Three

Charlie (Charlie Sheen) is a hilarious therapist! I really don’t get you people sometimes. This is Sheen’s second hit TV series, and neither have produced much in the way of actual laughs yet audiences keep coming back for more. He’s quickly become the laziest sitcom star as evidenced by the same line delivery every time, but even if he was a master comedian the show’s dialogue leaves a lot to be desired.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Gag reel]

Better Living Through Chemistry

Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell) is stuck between his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and a married woman (Olivia Wilde). Poor guy. He decides to take control of his life through medication, something made easier by the fact that he’s a pharmacist, but his new freedom runs the risk of derailing his life in major ways. There are some laughs here, but a cast this magnificent shouldn’t be so easily and casually wasted.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

The Bletchley Circle: Season 2

A small group of female code-breakers find a new lease on life as crime solvers in ’50s Engalnd. Season 2 includes two mysteries, and each one features solid writing, suitable production values and a game group of actresses in the lead roles. There’s once again an interesting dynamic here with the lead female characters being clearly and consistently smarter than their counterparts. It’s a good show.

[DVD extras: Interviews]

Date and Switch

Two best friends make a pact to get laid before prom, but when one of them comes out as gay their plans are put on hiatus… for all of a minute. This is a lightweight rom-com, but good performances combined with some genuinely funny dialogue make it a worthwhile watch for fans of the genre looking for something outside the big name norm of Hollywood releases.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]

Flowers in the Attic

Four siblings are abandoned by their mother (Heather Graham) and left to live with their wicked grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) who locks them in the attic and treats them like prisoners. V.C. Andrews beloved (?) YA novel gets a second adaptation that plays up the campier aspects of the story while sticking to the book’s main plot. Burstyn is having a lot of fun here, and you’ll probably have a small share of that.

[DVD extras: Featurette]

Inspector De Luca: The Series (UK)

Like Murder on the Homefront below, this Italian series sets its mysteries against the backdrop of World War II Europe, and the result is similarly fresh and interesting. The mysteries themselves aren’t especially memorable, but the scenery and cast make for an easy going entry into Italian television.

[DVD extras: None]

Murder on the Home Front

A killer is stalking the streets of London and striking under the cover not only of night but of the Blitz as well. As Germany drops bombs, the murderer drops corpses, and it’s up Dr. Lennox Collins to stop him. This British TV film pairs a fantastic premise with average execution thanks to some tonal and dialogue issues in the script. The characters and story are interesting enough to make it watchable though.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews

The Nut Job

Surly is a squirrel looking for good grub, and he finds it in a store. So of course he plans an elaborate heist. The voice talent assembled here is fine (Will ArnettLiam NeesonMaya Rudolph), but the any animated film this focused on farts should be readily ignored. Skip it and watch Ice Age instead.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, shorts]

Philomena

Philomena Lee (Judy Dench) was forced as a teenager to give her newborn child up for adoption, and now, fifty years later, she’s trying to find out what became of the little boy. She finds a helping hand in Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a disgraced politician and reporter, who turns her crusade into his own. This true story was accused of bashing the Catholic church, but it’s actually a pretty level affair highlighted by two solid lead performances.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, featurette, commentary]

Ride Along

Ben (Kevin Hart) has to prove to his fiance’s brother (Ice Cube) that he’s a real stand up guy, so he convinces the detective to take him on a ride along. This is why the film is called Ride Along. It doesn’t explain why it’s not all that funny. It’s not a total dud though as Hart finds some laughs throughout his rapid-fire delivery.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Alternate ending, deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel, commentary]

Ripper Street: Season Two

The Ripper murders remain a thing of the past as the 1900’s approach, but while the serial killer is gone other malicious miscreants and murderers remain. Matthew MacFadyen remains the most worthwhile part of the series, both because he’s that good and because the stories just aren’t as engaging as they should be.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a LIFE Magazine employee with a problem. The magazine is ending its print edition, the girl he loves is beyond his reach and the most important photo in the magazine’s history is missing. That’s three problems, but whatever. Stiller’s latest directorial effort is aesthetically pleasing — it’s gorgeous and features a fantastic soundtrack — but the film’s theme is a muddled mess. And the reveal of that incredibly powerful photograph? Oh my.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, music video]

The War Lord (UK)

When a renowned knight (Charlton Heston) is granted a castle of his own in rural Normandy he discovers ruling his own plot of land isn’t as easy as he’d hoped. There are clashes between his men and the locals, but there’s also a very attractive local. Skirmishes and drama ensue. Eureka’s new Blu-ray offers an HD restored picture that looks quite good indeed.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Trailer, booklet]

Wrong Cops

Quentin Dupieux killed it with his feature debut, Rubber, which mixed absurd comedy with an incredibly smart commentary on the viewers themselves. He followed it with Wrong, a film whose only real strength was in a handful of performances, and now with this comedically dead third feature it’s become clear that Rubber was a fluke of major proportions. None of the characters engage, the laughs are painfully absent and its 82 minute runtime makes it feel like a solid 90. Skip it and watch Loaded Weapon instead.

[DVD extras: Commentary, trailer]

Discs Section: Also

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:

Angry Birds: Toons – Season One Volume Two
Black Nativity
Boys of Abu Ghraib
The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Crack Ups
Copperhead
Great Expectations
In the Name Of
Interior Leather Bar
The Invisible Woman
The Making of a Lady
Trap for Cinderella


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